The Devil Is in the Details: Rural-Sensitive Best Practices for Accountability Under No Child Left Behind

Last Updated: January 01, 2004

Rural-Sensitive Best Practices for Accountability Under NCLB

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By Lorna Jimerson

Across the country, states are concentrating their efforts on meeting the requirements and the spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The implementation provisions and timelines are demanding and challenging for all districts, but are particularly daunting for rural and small districts. Although NCLB is quite prescriptive, the legislation does allow states some "wiggle room" in certain policy areas, many of which are especially important for rural and small schools. Some choices can help rural and small schools successfully navigate NCLB. Other choices may make the law more problematic.

This report focuses only on certain details of the accountability provisions of NCLB. We have identified 12 areas where state accountability plans can have special significance for rural schools and districts. We call policies that are beneficial to rural and small schools "Rural-Sensitive Best Practices." These policies most clearly recognize the realities and the challenges of schooling in rural areas. The report looks at 15 states with significant rural populations, (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming) and examines the extent to which state accountability choices are "rural-sensitive" in each of these 12 areas.

Our intent here is not to "rate" states' accountability plans, but rather to illuminate some of the complexities of NCLB from a rural perspective. Though we have placed a checkmark next to state policies we believe are "rural-sensitive" in the tables that constitute the main portion of this report, we realize that a variety of factors led to some of these policy decisions; the lack of a checkmark does not indicate that the state is insensitive to rural issues. We understand that there are both competing state needs and competing NCLB requirements.

We wrote this report with two audiences in mind. First, the report is designed to help rural advocates isolate and understand some of the details of NCLB accountability that make a difference for rural schools and districts. Second, we hope the report will be useful for state officials as they consider modifications to state accountability plans.

The report has three sections. The first section is a chart that examines each of the 12 policy areas and describes its significance for rural schools. For each area, we have identified the most "rural-sensitive" position. The second section examines how each of these 12 policy areas is treated in the NCLB plan for 15 of the most "rural" states. The last section summarizes the findings of our investigation, discusses other areas of importance, and offers reflections about NCLB accountability in rural places.